What we eat says a great deal about who we are and where we came from.
Vendors invited to participate in the Great Lakes Folk Festival's "Taste of Traditions Food Court" offer traditional foods closely linked to their ethnicity or region. Below is a glimpse of some of the treats available at this year's festival.
Information for Food Vendors
Information for Traditional and Non Traditional Food Vendors
Local and Other Food Vendors 2007
-Melting Moments-Locally produced Ice Cream Treats
-Blimpies/Smoothie Island- Classic American Subs ( Hoagies, or Heros)
-Somethin's Poppin'- Sweet and crunchy Kettle corn
-Flats Grill- Yummy Quesadilla style sandwiches
-Cottage Inn- Pizza, a college classic! Lots of non students like it too!
-Tammy's Elephant Ears- A county fair tradition, sweet fried dough topped with
powdered sugar or apple pie filling.
-Police Athletic League (PAL)- Provides cold soft drinks at several locations throughout the festival site.
-Chinese Family buffet - Asian Cusine
-Neil's Doghouse- Hot dogs, sausage, onion rings and brats
-Tropical Drinks- Fruit cups and cool fruit drinks
-Amist Concessions- Fresh-squeezed Lemonade
-Harper's Restaurant and Brewpub
-New in 2007 Dublin Square
A.J. Rib Experience
Barbecuing ribs is an art and practitioners have their own discrete methods. Some marinate, some baste with vinegar, some boil, some bake, and some smoke the meat. Ribs can be cooked long and slow or hot and fast. Some like their ribs moist and tender; others argue that only firm and chewy will do. And what of the sauce or spices? Some use commercially bottled sauce that they adjust to their taste, while others make their sauce from scratch, often using a family recipe. Others rub the ribs with spices and may or may not use sauce. There is wide variation in the degree of spiciness and sweetness. In Michigan, ribs are a popular foodways, about which everyone has a strong opinion. Allen Jones's barbecued ribs are rubbed with a secret seasoning and smoked.
Allen Jones moved with his family from Chicago to Flint in 1969. As a child, he already had aspirations of being a chef and began cooking at the age of 5 under the direction of his mother, grandmother, and great great uncle. He attended prestigious culinary art schools in Arkansas and Boston and is now a certified chef. He applied his culinary skills at the Michigan School for the Blind until the school closed in 1994, when he turned to catering. Today his family's southern culinary heritage is but one part of his cooking repertoire. He did not begin to barbecue until the late 1990s, when he saw a fellow barbecuing and selling ribs on a street corner and he knew he wanted to do this. When not at the Great Lakes Folk Festival, Allen can be found selling ribs on the corner of Pleasant Grove and Hamilton.
Aloha Piilani's Catering Company
Auntie Piilani Rupert brings to us the foods and flavors of Hawaii. She grew up in a household where her grandmother ruled the kitchen, discouraging anyone else from cooking. Consequently, Piilani, who wanted to learn to cook, pursued her passion for food by trial and error, practicing until she achieved perfection. Cooking is creative and "you are either born to it or not and you either get the flavor (right) or not." Piilani was born to it and gets the flavor of the food perfectly.
By the age of 37 she was a well-known caterer in Hawaii, having passed the ultimate test of culinary excellence. At this time she moved to the mainland where she continued to cater. She has been pleasing the palates of Michiganders for many years with foods and her special flavors that comprise Hawaiian cuisine.
Altu's Ethiopian Cuisine
East Lansing, Michigan
Spices play an esential role in Ethiopian cuisine, which ranges from delicate and appealing to hot and and almost addictive. Berbere, a mixture of spices and fiery ethiopian red pepper, is used for everything from a rich man's delicacy to a poor man's chunk of bread. the national dish of Ethiopia, a stew called wat, is made with chicken fish and meats but the finest wats are made with lentils, beans or chickpeas. When served, food is placed atop injera, a thin, round bread made of finely ground teff, a high-quality millet, and eaten with the right hand by tearing off pieces of injera and dipping into or wrapping the piece around bite-sized food.
Altu Tadesse is from western Ethiopia. She was raised on her family's farm and by the age of twelve, she was cooking complete meals. Altu came to the United States with her husband in 1986. She opened her popular restaurant in East Lansing in 1996 and serves fine examples of Ethiopian food.
Native American cookery consists of the oldest foods and the oldest cooking methods in North America-a food and cooking tradition based on things gathered from the ground, plants, and fresh and salt waters. Like the Native Americans themselves, their food and cooking have changed greatly since first contact with Europeans. Nonetheless, the Native foods that were once associated with ceremonial life remain so today. Certain things are still eaten in certain seasons only by certain people. What is eaten is central to being Native, and nothing is eaten without a prayer.
Many New World foods have enriched the cuisines of other nations. What would Italian food be, for example, without the tomato? Native peoples grew and preserved a wide variety of corn, which European traders took to all corners of the world. Corn is still an important ingredient in the Native American diet and is eaten in a variety of ways.
Some foods closely identified today with Indians are the result of European and other Native American influences. Frybread, for example, evolved because of access to European wheat and lard, and today it is associated with all Indians. Through fairs, festivals, and pow wows, the southwestern version of frybread--the Indian or Navajo taco--has been adopted by Native Americans of the Great Lakes region and elsewhere.
Maria ("Lupe") Aguilar left Mexico decades ago, now lives in Bath, Michigan and is an active member of the Cristo Rey community in Lansing. At church and Latino festivals, she prepares and sells Mexican foods, some from her hometown, Celaya, Guanajuato. For more than 25 years she has been making tamales, both the savory variety with pork, which most Michiganders know, and the sweet variety, which Mexican-Americans favor at Christmas and other festive occasions. For nearly as long, she has made and sold gorditas, thick shells made from masa that are filled with meat, potatoes and vegetables or vegetables and cheese. Another of her specialties are flautas, a form of taco found in northern Mexico; a tortilla is filled with beef, generally, then rolled and fried. Lupe cooks the real Mexican food, the same as she prepares for her grandchildren and very different than anything you are likely to find at commercial establishments.
Federated Polish Home
The Federated Polish Home is a social and fraternal hall built by Polish immigrants in about 1926. It is made up of three Polish fraternal organizations: Polish National Alliance, Polish Falcons, and White Eagles. These organizations were started by immigrants to provide accident and death insurance coverage to members from Poland and their families. In addition to their function as insurance providers, these organizations also are social organizations. Among other things, they sponsor dinner dances at which Polish foods prepared by members are sometimes served.
Pierogi are very popular dumplings that symbolize Polishness in the United States. They have a variety of fillings, including cheese and potato, which are offered by the Federated Polish Home, along with homemade kielbasa (sausage) and sauerkraut.
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church
Ethnic churches in America are very important in maintaining culinary traditions, a role they do not usually have in their countries of origin. Cornish-American churches hold pasty bake sales, Serbian-American chuches have summer lamb roasts, and Armenian-American churches hold regular bazaars at which a wide range of Armenian foods are sold, both to take home and to eat on site. The Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church of Lansing is no excpetion. Among other food events, the congregation hosts a fundraising luncheon featuring Greek cuisine prepared by the Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society.
Church members are now second and third generation Americans and include a number of other ethnics united by eastern rite Orthodox faith, as well as converts in marriage. The food, however, is steadfastly Greek.
The term "Tex Mex" designates Texas Mexicans (Tejanos) and their culture. Much of the cuisine we know in Michigan as Mexican is Tex Mex, brought by families who settled in Michigan from Texas and by seasonal agricultural workers from Texas who live part of the year in Michigan.
The Espinoza family's ancestors emigrated from Mexico to Texas during the Great Depression. Highway construction work in the 1950s brought the grandparents of James Espinoza to Michigan, and ultimately his family turned to agricultural work and settled in the Thumb region. James Espinoza and his mother, Maria, made and sold tacos for the first time at a Croswell festival three years ago. They make tacos the way their family has made them for generations, with corn tortillas, cheddar cheese, beef or chicken seasoned with cumin and garlic, lettuce, tomato, and mild homemade salsa. This, according to James, is the "real" Tex-Mex taco from the region of Corpus Christi. In addition, they offer burritos, which James describes as taco ingredients plus beans wrapped in a flour tortilla.
Michael Bernard, currently the sous chef at the Lansing Center, grew up in Jamaica. At an early age, he was helping his mother in the kitchen, learning from her the skills and knowledge needed for cooking Jamaican. His passion for food led him to train to be a professional cook and eventually to work as a chef and to train others.
Jamaican food culture has been influenced by many different cultures over time: the Tainos and peoples from Africa, India, China, Spain and Britain. The island's motto is "Out of many, one people." The Tainos are credited with contributing the "jerk flavor," the British for patties, Indians for curry. At the Great Lakes Folk Festival, Michael Bernard offers tastes of these flavors and more.
Southern foods are prepared by Shirley Crutcher, whose foods some festival goers might already know, because she often serves barbecue and southern foods in front of her church, New Hope Church of God in Christ, in Lansing.
Shirley owes much of her knowledge about cooking and the kitchen to her father-in-law, a longtime chef in the Navy. Now some 30 years later, she is a skillful, competent cook. Being from Memphis, Shirley Crutcher knows barbecue; however, this year at the festival she prepares only soul food. Her delicious, classic African-American menu includes catfish, collard greens, Polish sausage, corn bread (plain and "Mexican" with hot peppers), spaghetti (a well known specialty of Shirley), and peach cobbler.
Michigan is home to the largest, densest, Arab-speaking population outside of the Middle East. In southeast Michigan alone, it numbers c. 450, 000 and is comprised of many religions, nations, ethnic groups, and regional cuisines. The greater Lansing area is also home to a number of Arab-speakers, reflecting the same diversity as found in southeast Michigan. Some have lived here all their lives and others arrived in the last decades. Regardless, great value is attached to cooking and consuming traditional Arabic foods.
The generous use of herbs, spices, and aromatics generally defines food from the Arab world. Although comprised of many local and regional variations, most cuisines include rice and wheat dishes, stuffed vegetables, savory pies wrapped in paper-thin pastry, various methods for roasting meats, thick omelets, scented rice puddings, nut-filled pastries, fritters soaked in syrup, and a variety of fruits and vegetable juices.
Lebanon is one of only two Middle Eastern countries to have a highly developed restaurant tradition. Lebanese emigrant cooks and restaurateurs brought Arab cuisine to the attention of the world. In Michigan, the majority of Arab bakeries and restaurants, like Sahara's of Okemos, offer Lebanese foods. Ahmad Elbast, the proprietor and one of the cooks, apprenticed at another well known Lansing-area restaurant, Woody's Oasis, before following his dream of owning his own restaurant. He takes great pride in serving the best in Lebanese food.
East Lansing, Michigan
Outside of the Middle East, Michigan is home to the largest Arabic-speaking population, comprising many religions, nations, ethnic groups, and regional cuisines.
Great value is attached to cooking and good food in the Middle East. It is a sensual kind of cooking, generously using herbs, spices, and aromatics. Most local cuisines include rice and wheat dishes, stuffed vegetables, pies wrapped in paper-thin pastry, various methods for roasting meats, meatballs, thick omelettes, cold vegetables cooked in oil, scented rice puddings, nut-filled pastries, fritters soaked in syrup and a variety of fruit and vegetable juices.
Some areas are known for a highly developed cuisine. Lebanon, for example, is one of only two Middle Eastern countries to have a highly developed restaurant tradition. Lebanese emigrant cooks and restaurateurs brought Arab cuisine to the attention of the world. In Michigan, the majority of restaurants and bakeries offer Lebanese foods. Woody's Oasis, the first Arab restaurant in the area, has pleased its customers with Lebanese foods.
Rootbeer is an all-American drink that dates from the mid-nineteenth century. Chris Zemer is a fourth-generation rootbeer maker and vendor; his great grandfather started his rootbeer business in Ionia in the 1920s. From a stand made by his grandfather and great grandfather in the 1920s, Chris and his wife Joy have been selling rootbeer since 1991. Chris's grandfather made the counters and his great grandfather had used the rootbeer barrel, both of which are part of the stand. The stand is a highly valued family heirloom and the rootbeer business, a long family tradition.
With this history, Chris has stories to tell. He won't give us his secret recipe, but he will tell you there's nothing better than an ice cold glass of his homemade rootbeer. "Once you taste my rootbeer," Chris boasted, "you'll never want anyone else's."